U.S. Outlines New Drug-War Strategy

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The Obama administration unveiled its National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy Thursday in Albuquerque, N.M. Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and drug czar Gil Kerlikowske were on hand to introduce the new policies, designed to coordinate federal, state and local efforts to police the border with Mexico.


While President Obama travels overseas, his Cabinet members are selling the administration's policy initiatives at home.

Today in Albuquerque, Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and drug czar Gil Kerlikowske unveiled a new strategy to fight drug trafficking along the southwest border.

NPR's Ted Robbins was there.

TED ROBBINS: Attorney General Eric Holder looked around the room at the University of New Mexico and joked that it was filled with people he ought to be meeting with in the nation's capital.

Mr. ERIC HOLDER (Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice): I actually see more people here from Washington than I think I see in D.C.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBBINS: It took a trip to Albuquerque to get everyone together to announce the National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy. It brings together Cabinet departments and the White House Office of Drug Control Policy to fight drug trafficking from Mexico - and here's what's new - to fight the flow of guns and money going south into Mexico.

DHS Secretary Napolitano says more agents and more technology are moving into place at the border.

Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (U.S. Department of Homeland Security): Things like scales so we can measure vehicles to see if they're heavier than they ought to be, things like scanners. We've added more dog teams, dogs trained to sniff not just drugs, but also guns and bulk cash.

ROBBINS: That emphasis was announced a few months ago but in much less detail. The new strategy also adds more prosecutors for already overburdened U.S. attorneys who will have even more cases to handle. The plan is also heavy on intelligence sharing between DHS, Justice and the Mexican government.

Ninety percent of the cocaine and about half the marijuana in this country comes across the southwest border, but critics say the problem with the new strategy is that its focus is only on the southwest.

Renee Scherlen is a professor at Appalachian State and co-author of the book "Lies, Damned Lies and Drug War Statistics."

Dr. RENEE SCHERLEN (Appalachian State University; Author, "Lies, Damned Lies and Drug War Statistics"): We are going to crack down on Mexico. We'll be successful at some point. You know, we will be able to limit the amount of drugs coming through Mexico, but they're going to be going somewhere else.

ROBBINS: Scherlen says the only way to cut down on illegal drug trafficking is to address the demand for drugs. Drug czar Kerlikowske agrees. That's why he says the Obama administration has stopped using the term war on drugs.

Mr. GIL KERLIKOWSKE (Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy): It is a change. The change in emphasis is to look at this as a public health problem. Law enforcement and prevention and treatment are all big parts of it. But clearly, the public health problem is the way we should be viewing this.

ROBBINS: But the new border strategy doesn't mention treatment or education. Kerlikowske says that will come when the president's comprehensive drug control policy is announced early next year.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Albuquerque.

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